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We usually talk about natural disasters in terms of costs. The most costly in Colorado, at least in terms of human life, was the massive flood that tore through Big Thompson Canyon between Estes Park and Loveland on July 31, 1976, killing 144 people.

The most costly natural catastrophe in terms of dollars was a Front Range hailstorm on July 11, 1990, which caused property damages of $996 million (converted to today's dollars).

We are in the midst of another natural disaster that is much slower-moving than a flood or hailstorm: a pine beetle epidemic. The cost in this case is measured in trees perhaps as many as a billion of them, mostly lodgepole pines (see cover story starting on p. 19).

Luckily for the Pikes Peak region, the beetles have focused so far on other parts of Colorado. But the aftermath will be felt by all of us as we see our campgrounds, hiking trails and forest vistas forever changed.

Still, the epidemic could set up some positive changes, as biologists and forest managers learn from the experience.

Forest Service biologist Clint Kyhl says it this way: "This is our chance to set up a healthy forest for future generations."

  • We usually talk about natural disasters in terms of costs.

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